Dr. Sangeeta Luthra recently presented at the SAFAR Conference, “To Know is Not Enough,” on November 8, 2014. In this Q and A, Dr. Luthra reflects on the experience and shares the power of research, discussion, and critical thinking of the intersectionalities of Sikh American women.
As a presenter at the SAFAR conference for 2014, what did your discussion entail?
The title of my presentation was “Out of the Ashes: Sikh American Institution Building and the Promise of Gender Equality.” I explored the role of women in the Sikh American community and in particular within the newer institutions created since 9/11. While I recognize that this period of Sikh American history is difficult and tragic, I feel this is also a period of great creativity in terms of creative expression, institutional work being done, and our role in the broader American cultural and political landscape. A question I am very interested in is whether this will be a period of “creative agency” for Sikh women – whether we can become agents for ourselves, our needs and our problems.
Why was it important to present this research in this particular context?
This year’s theme was brilliant because it forces us to think about how research is connected to the “real world” and to the challenging and changing ways of doing things that aren’t healthy or fair. I think SAFAR is a leader in creating a much-needed forum for talking and thinking about the experiences of Sikh women and girls in the community and for encouraging research on gender and community, specifically on the relationships between men and women in different contexts today and in the past. This research is very important for Sikh girls and women, as we are part of the community but not part of its history and formal institutions. The conference does a great job of stimulating scholars to work on questions that otherwise would not be explored.
Can you describe the intersection amongst scholarly work, feminism, and Sikhism, in particular, Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s vision? What is rich about this intersection and how will Sikh American women benefit?
Guru Nanak Dev Ji and all the Sikh Gurus were uncompromising in their respect for human beings regardless of gender, class, caste, creed, etc. Feminism is also based on a deep commitment to respect, dignity, and compassion towards all humans. While the Guru’s challenged misogyny in Indian society and proclaimed women as fully human as men, the promise of equality is yet to be fulfilled in our community both here and around the world. Feminism and Sikhism have a lot in common in promoting cultures of peace in our own community and around the world.
Can you describe sliding back and forth on the writing continuum between scholarly academic writing and creative writing as a Her Name Is Kaur author?
Learning to write in a more creative and expressive way is making my academic work more holistic and hopefully more relatable. Creative writing forces me to more fully explore emotions and all the senses through which we see and live in the world. I am used to thinking about “big” social and historical processes but paying attention to what those feel, smell, look and taste like is a different way of understanding the world, and creative writing has pushed me into that. My job as an anthropologist requires me to do just that: to think about and write about human experience in different contexts and periods. Having said that, it is difficult to do because exploring emotions and motives is not always pretty, pleasant, or heroic.
What is your advice for Sikh American women making their way into the world?
It’s hard to give advice – everyone has their own journey. I know for me being a Sikh has mostly been about social justice and becoming more aware of myself, the good and the bad. But real social justice begins at home so I guess I would say start the revolution in your kitchen.
Dr. Sangeeta Luthra is a cultural anthropologist and educator. Her primary research is on women’s empowerment, workplace literacy, micro-lending, and sustainable development with a special focus on non-governmental organizations in urban northern India. In addition to teaching and research Sangeeta is an active volunteer. Since moving to the Bay Area, she has been an active volunteer and fundraiser in local South Asian cultural associations, from being an advisor the Kaur Foundation and organizing voter registration drives for the Bay Area South Asian community. Currently Sangeeta is teaching at Santa Clara University as an Adjunct faculty in the Anthropology Department. She lives in Los Altos, CA with her husband and two daughters.